Reject driver cards for undocumented immigrants

Letter date: 
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Letter publisher: 
The Register Guard
Letter author: 
Richard F. LaMountain
Letter body: 

In April 2013, when Oregon lawmakers passed Senate Bill 833 granting driver cards to illegal immigrants, “their intent was clear ... to make the state’s roads safer for all Oregonians,” editorialized The Register-Guard in its endorsement of Measure 88 (“Approve driver card measure,” Sept. 14).

What “their intent was not,” the editorial asserted, was “to undermine federal immigration laws or to turn Oregon into a magnet for undocumented workers who would take jobs away from legal residents and siphon public resources.”

Intent — especially that of a 90-member Legislature — is a hard thing to divine. What is “clear,” however, is this: If voters approve Measure 88, what the editorial said lawmakers intended driver cards to do is unlikely to happen, and what it said they did not intend them to do is almost certain to happen.

The editorial claims that Measure 88 “would almost certainly reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the state’s roads.”

Would it? “Liability insurance is not a requirement for ... the proposed driver card that is under Senate Bill 833/Ballot Measure 88,” writes David House of the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division.

Notes the Federation for American Immigration Reform: “What is mistakenly assumed is that illegal aliens, who generally are low-income, have the cash available to acquire auto insurance... . While a few illegal aliens may be willing and able to buy insurance,” their numbers would not likely be sufficient “to significantly reduce the number of uninsured drivers.”

Before the 2008 passage of Senate Bill 1080, which required Oregon license applicants to prove legal U.S. presence, illegal immigrants were routinely licensed to drive. And yet, according to a January 2013 report by Oregon DMV administrator Tom McClellan, “Four years after implementing a legal presence requirement in Oregon, changes in driver licensing requirements have not had a major impact on the rate of unlicensed and uninsured driving.”

So it is dubious to assert, as the editorial did, that public safety is “the prism through which voters should view Measure 88.” Here are the real “prisms” through which voters should view the measure:

The rule of law. “A stable, harmonious society depends on the law’s consistent application to both citizens and non-citizens,” writes Cynthia Kendoll, president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform. “A government that enforces laws on its citizens, but bends laws to accommodate those here illegally, will invite the contempt of both.”

Oregon does not exist in a vacuum. It has responsibilities to the nation of which it is a part. One of those responsibilities is to not take actions that reward lawbreakers and would, as FAIR says, “frustrate .... the purposes and objectives of federal immigration law.”

Jobs. Today in Oregon, according to the state Employment Department, more than 200,000 U.S. citizens and legal residents are either jobless or “involuntary part-time workers.” Concurrently, FAIR has estimated, more than 120,000 illegal immigrants may hold Oregon jobs — jobs that driver cards would better enable them to take and keep.

Overwhelmingly, illegal immigrants take lower-wage jobs in fields such as food services, construction, building maintenance and groundskeeping — jobs occupied disproportionately by young, minority and low-skilled Americans. For many of these Americans, such jobs provide their families’ main support; for others, they provide crucial supplemental income. They offer young people who are new to the job market experience in adult responsibility. Such jobs are likely to offer many of our long-term unemployed a step back into the working world. And far from being “dead-end” jobs, many of them provide the first rung on the ladder to higher-paying supervisory and managerial work.

Oregonians should reject the driver cards that would better enable illegal immigrants to compete with our economically vulnerable fellow citizens for much-needed jobs.

Illegal immigrants’ fiscal burden on Oregonians. “Contrary to the claims of opponents,” asserted the editorial, “undocumented immigrants play a vital role in the state’s economy.”

Do they? In late 2012, FAIR calculated that Oregon’s then-estimated 170,000 illegal immigrants and their 64,000 U.S.-born children used more than $1 billion a year of state and local government services, but paid only $77 million a year in state and local taxes. Their annual cost to each of Oregon’s U.S.-citizen-headed households: $728. More illegal immigrants attracted by driver cards would mean more money extracted from Oregon taxpayers to fund the services those illegal immigrants and their children consume.

To conclude: Driver cards would do little if anything to increase the number of insured drivers. They would, however, undermine the rule of law, better enable illegal immigrants to take jobs from Oregonians, and add to the already-substantial fiscal burden they impose on the state’s taxpayers.

The choice is clear. Reject driver cards for illegal immigrants with a “no” vote on Measure 88.

Richard LaMountain was a chief petitioner for the Measure 88 referendum.